SA faces suicide crisis as Sadag fields more than 75,000 calls for help since January

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group has received more than 75,000 calls from South Africans contemplating suicide and those who have attempted ending their lives, since January.
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group has received more than 75,000 calls from South Africans contemplating suicide and those who have attempted ending their lives, since January.
Image: Pexels

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has since January fielded more than 75,000 calls from South Africans contemplating suicide as well as from those who have attempted ending their lives.

This as the world marks World Suicide Prevention Day on Friday.

Sadag, which runs a dedicated suicide crisis helpline, said calls have come from “people who are really struggling, having serious suicidal thoughts, behaviours, and callers who have previously attempted suicide.

“There are still many more people who haven’t reached out, or who are too scared to talk to someone, and don’t know where to go for help,” said Cassey Chambers, the organisation's operations director.

“Suicide in SA has always been a concerning issue, with high rates of suicide even before Covid-19, especially among men who are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

“Sadag has had a direct impact on the population’s mental health since Covid-19 lockdown last year, with more and more people reaching out for help every day, especially youth as they make up the majority of callers contacting Sadag.”

Some of the myths related to suicide.
Some of the myths related to suicide.
Image: Sadag

“Before Covid lockdown in 2020, we were receiving about 600 calls per day.

“At the beginning of lockdown our call volumes doubled overnight to 1,200 per day.”

Eighteen months later Sadag is fielding about 2,200 calls per day.

“This figure excludes the hundreds, and thousands more, emails, Whatsapps, social media and SMS messages from people reaching out for help each day,” said Chambers.

The pandemic, she said, has contributed to increased feelings of isolation, vulnerability, trauma, depression and anxiety among all age groups, races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Talking about suicide has often been viewed as a taboo and shameful topic, with many too scared to talk about it, out of fear that it may “plant the seed” or that they would say the wrong thing.

Clinical psychologist Zamo Mbele said: “You don’t need to have all the answers. People are often reluctant to intervene, for many reasons, including fear or not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing.

“It is important to remember, there is no specific formula. People in distress, who are thinking about suicide are not looking for specific advice. They are looking for compassion, empathy and a lack of judgment.”

Psychiatrist and psychologist, Dr Frans Korb,  said more than 75% of people who die by suicide tell someone first.

“It is so important to know the warning signs so you can identify when someone you care about needs urgent help.”

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or thinking about ending their life, speak to a mental health professional or contact the suicide helpline, 0800 567 567, Cipla Helpline 0800 456 789, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or SMS 31393.

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